Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over train derailment

The Ohio Attorney General’s office filed a complaint against Norfolk Southern Railway in federal court on Tuesday, alleging that the company violated hazardous waste and water quality laws and was negligent for causing the train derailment and toxic chemical releases last month in East Palestine, Ohio. 

The lawsuit — which addresses alleged damages to the state, its economy and its natural resources — adds to the railway’s legal woes in the wake of the train derailment and subsequent release of toxic chemicals, which the complaint says included more than 1 million gallons of hazardous materials. 

The lawsuit increases pressure on Norfolk Southern and could be a legal route to address long-lasting impacts from spilled and burned chemicals in East Palestine. The suit asks the court to require that company pay for future environmental monitoring, and reimburse the state for costs associated with its response and for remediation, among other concerns. 

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train are on fire the day after it derailed on Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio.Gene J. Puskar / AP file

“The fallout of this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate in Ohio and for Ohioans for many years to come,” said David Yost, Ohio’s Attorney General, in a news conference. “The company has repeatedly said they want to make it right. Our lawsuit is designed to make sure they keep their promise.” 

In a statement sent to NBC News, Norfolk Southern said that its goal “has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and its surrounding communities, saying it was “listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment” and noting that company representatives recently met with Yost to discuss additional programs the railway may choose to offer to residents. 

More on East Palestine, Ohio

The statement said the company was interested in developing programs to protect drinking water, to create a long-term medical compensation fund and to “provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment.” 

“We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs,” the statement said.  

A flurry of lawsuits have been filed by private citizens. Yost said this lawsuit will run in parallel with those complaints.

“The private lawsuits represent individual people with individual damages. Our lawsuit is seeking damages to the state of Ohio, to its environment, to its economy, as well as the broader damage to the people,” Yost said. “They’re about different consequences of the same facts.” 

Image: Olivia Holley, 22, and Taylor Gulish, 22, collect water samples from Leslie Run creek on February 25, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. Holley and Gulish are testing the pH and the total dissolved solids (TDS) of the water.
People collect water samples from Leslie Run creek on Feb. 25 in East Palestine, Ohio, to test the pH and the total dissolved solids in the water.Michael Swensen / Getty Images file

Yost said the state believes that the derailment could have been prevented and that it is concerned about Norfolk’s broader safety record in recent years. 

“This derailment was entirely avoidable. I’m concerned Norfolk and Southern may be putting profits for their own company above the health and safety of cities and communities they operate in,” Yost said. 

Norfolk Southern did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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